In Incite 66 we look at how innovation from within can contribute to business growth. Too many Irish businesses are focused on cutting costs, as opposed to increasing margins through the application of design and innovation. You may have time now to think about and question core business assumptions (about customers, competitors, what market are we in, etc.)
Yes, business people can re-capture the dynamism and zeal of earlier years and lead their companies to a bright future.
Linking with this article, see the previous posting on the best environment for innovation.
“A recession can provide a time when businesses become more open to change and willing to remove unnecessary procedures” says Jane Henry of the Open University Business School. In the following commentary she describes how creativity can be harnessed in a company. We also introduce Mark Turrell of the idea management company Imaginatik and his Top 10 ways to manage innovation in a downturn.
Firstly from Jane Henry – recession is a time when many entrepreneurs set up their companies and then are in prime position for growth when the economy shifts upwards. For high wage economies such as the Ireland who it find difficult to compete with the likes of China on high-volume low-end products, creativity can be critical in providing added-value. The hoover makers Dyson, for example, moved volume production of their floor cleaners to Malaysia but kept an expanded research and development group in the UK.
Creativity is often associated with ‘thinking out of the box’ but research shows creative people often spend, longer than average, deciding which question to devote their time to and which angle is the best to pursue. So allowing staff some time to pursue their ideas and hunches is one way to foster creativity.
Managers can make a difference by fostering a culture where staff feel able to challenge existing practice and voice new ideas, as opposed to an organisation where people feel obliged to look busy, watch their back and avoid stepping out of line for fear of being blamed.
An excess of internal procedures can induce a conservatism that makes it hard for creative ideas to be developed or sustained. Creative organisations provide opportunities for creative endeavour by all their staff.
A suggestion scheme provides a simple way of tapping into the ideas of the workforce, locating substantive savings and possible process and product advances. Most organisations find that the creative ideas generated pay for themselves in a very short-timescale – provided managers publicise those they have taken up so employees know it is worth their while to participate.
Creativity is often associated with radical ideas provided by a select few, but the majority of products evolve from earlier models (the computers and mobile phones of today are unrecognisable from their predecessors of thirty years ago).
Though we often associate a creative idea with an individual, it generally takes a team with different skills to realise its potential and bring it to market. People with different personalities may be better suited to different stages of the creative process.
People with wide interests can be better at coming up with fundamentally new approaches, whereas people who are better at detail and completion are often more drawn to improving existing products and practices. Entrepreneurs tend to be risk-takers willing to take chances most people would not. In organisations people with creative ideas often need influential sponsors to help get funding to realise their ideas.
For maximum impact managers need differential reward strategies for different types of creative employee, scientists often place a higher value on freedom and job satisfaction than pay, whereas entrepreneurs are interested in making serious money.
Innovation Top 10 for the Downturn
So how can you take creativity and innovation – which is the process of doing new things that deliver value – and make use of them during a downturn? Mark Turrell suggests an innovation Top 10 for the downturn
- Use innovation and idea management tools and processes for cost reduction.
- Take a proportion of realised cost savings and put them into innovation and doing new things that can immediately add value, or create new opportunities for the medium term.
- Develop and populate an Innovation & Opportunity Inventory to capture and store opportunities for growth and improvement, so that you can fast track deployment when the business situation improves (and not reinvent the wheel).
- Start – and scale-up – working with partners for co-creation, leveraging other people’s resources and insights, to help de-risk and accelerate new innovations.
- Treat the reduction in money or resources as a beneficial ‘constraint’, work around the constraints, and become good at Constraint-driven Innovation.
- Tap into enterprise crowdsourcing – harnessing the brainpower of hundreds and thousands using software and special engagement methods – to get scale, more input, more diverse input faster, cheaper and with better quality than many more old-fashioned methods.
- Look for innovation opportunities outside the usual areas.
- Become less demanding with bosses: ask for less budget and people and manage down expectations.
- Use the time during the downturn as the opportunity to think about and question core business assumptions (customer needs, etc) – thinking is cheap.
- Develop a big vision for the future, hide it, keep working toward it… you might get the chop otherwise.
For more see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/crowdsourcing
Open University Business School www.open.ac.uk/oubs/ and www.imaginatik.com